Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Beatitudes Pt.2

  "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted". Again as with the previous statement Jesus made about the poor in spirit, this one as well is rooted in the Old Testament. In the "Servant Songs" of the book of Isaiah, chapters 40-66, there is a sense of mourning. Among many of such statements there is chapter 61:2 "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn". In these writings in Isaiah, Judah is lamenting captivity, a exile that has occurred into Babylon that was brought about by unfaithfulness to Yahweh. Statements such as this are made "For our transgressions before you are many, and our sins testify against us" (Isaiah 59:12). Yet in these writings as well a sense of hope emerges, a longing for Yahweh to act again as he did in earlier times in Hebrew history, the exodus from Egypt. There is indeed mourning, but God will act again in history, he will comfort them, they will again be led through the sea, again they will travel through the wilderness as it blossoms and blooms. Judah looks for another exodus, a greater one really that the "arm of the Lord" will accomplish. So as Jesus says "blessed are those who mourn" he isn't unveiling a new form of teaching per say, rather the "new" aspect of it is him saying this is now happening, "you will be comforted". As Jesus goes through Israel proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to people he is bringing comfort a reconciliation with God, a return from exile spiritually. As his cousin John the baptist is baptizing in the Jordan river, which is itself a type of passing through the sea (1 Corinthians 10:2), a greater exodus is beginning to happen.
  What does this mean for me? What does mourning and being comforted from God look like today? It is still the same, we recognize our own sin or evil or imperfections or mess ups or whatever else you want to call it and we look to God to heal us from these, to comfort us with his love. I look at my own self and see a wretchedness about me that I loathe, I mourn over it. Yet as undeserving as I am God desires fellowship with me, God is interested in me, God wants to use me to work for him, God sent his Son to die for me. What comfort that is, what a new way of living that opens up. I was reading recently about the history of Christianity in Ireland, and St. Patrick of course was the man who brought the gospel to that country. He must have been a magnificent person, I look forward to meeting him, but in his own short autobiography his first statements about himself are "I, Patrick, a sinner, the rudest and least of all the faithful, and the most contemptible with the multitude". Kind of a surprising way for a man who has a holiday named for himself to begin his autobiography. I get a strong sense he knew what it was to mourn what he desired to change in his life. Paul himself called himself the "chief of sinners". But God has not abandoned us, he has brought comfort, Jesus himself experienced our "exile" on a Roman cross in order to bring us to God.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Way of Life

"For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life". (Ephesians 2:10) NRSV. That phrase "our way of life" has struck me lately reading through the Ephesian letter. How often do we separate our "religion" from other parts of life? Paul writes our good works we are in Christ to do is our very way we live, our life itself. Then it dawned on me it has always been this way. Our life in God is always about a walk or a path an ever increasing journey we are on in life, one that  consumes our whole life. In Genesis 5:24 we read a very short bio of a man named Enoch, "Enoch walked with God". We know very little else about this man, but doesn't saying he walked with God say it all? This man lived life in God's presence, he interacted with and obeyed God, he surely bore the image of God as he lived among others.
  In Isaiah 2:3, a prophetic verse foretelling the Kingdom the Messiah would establish, a Kingdom here now that reigns in our life. "Many peoples shall come and say "Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths". The ways of God are for us to learn so we can walk his path, life is a pathway which we walk with God.
  Jesus in the "sermon on the mount", talks of two pathways in life, two gates that can be entered, each with different destinations (Matthew 7:13-14). So often people equate "religion" merely with a belief system when it should be seen as a "life system", what we simply "believe" will have no power to save unless we live out that belief in life, it becomes our pathway.
  In Micah 6:6-8, some of my favorite Bible verses, Micah presents the question what can I bring to God that will be pleasing? Then he speaks of this extravagant amount of worship thinking God would be pleased with it, but what does God desire first? "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with you God". The worship is important, it is the outpouring of our heart, but of foremost importance is our walk with God, how we live among God's creation and listen to and obey him.
  It is all about a way of life, a way we never "arrive" at, so to speak, but a way we live each day. A path we follow that is in Jesus footsteps, he is the one leading us. It is an ever increasing way of knowing God in his Scriptures, we should be constantly seeking, changing if need be, and living out our knowledge to make a difference in life. Easy for me to say, a constant challenge to really live. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"The Beatitudes" part 1

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". The words that open the greatest sermon ever preached, the "sermon on the mount". In Matthew chapters five, six, and seven is found this discourse. From the opening statement he turns much of the world's wisdom on its head and shows the true path of happiness, he shows what it means to live in God's Kingdom and he invites us to enter into this way. Many would think, blessed are the wealthy, blessed are the aggressive who get their way but "blessed are the poor in spirit"?  Jesus is telling of a blessedness, or happiness, in life that transcends money, fame, power, health or whatever else that is transient in nature and can change in a "New York minute". What does it look like to be "poor in spirit"? Ultimately the answer to that is for you to wrestle with and pursue just as I do myself, but perhaps I can share with you my own ideas. First I don't think it means to walk around in a sad and morose condition. Jesus himself enjoyed life and people and celebrations, his first miracle was done at a wedding feast. The parable of the prodigal son ends with an extravagant celebration. All through the gospel writings Jesus is interacting with people and it should be this way for us as well. We have every reason to rejoice and live to make a difference.
  There is a sense in which we should have a "poorness of spirit" however, and to emphasize the point even more Jesus uses the strongest possible word for "poor" in this statement. He uses the word "ptochos" which means , begging poor. There is another word he could have used which would convey poorness but would have implied that one still possessed basic necessities. The word Jesus used however means to be a beggar and completely destitute of even the most basic needs of life. It means to be completely dependent on a outside source for needs. And this portrays our position before God, we understand that our true fulfillment in life is going to be found in him. We bring nothing to him that he needs, rather he provides to us and our direction in life is to be guided by him. What Jesus is saying here is rooted in the old testament writings. In Isaiah chapter 66, God speaks of the one to whom he looks to and esteems "But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word"(Isaiah 66:2). In this passage God is contrasting the "contrite in spirit" with those who "chose their own way, and take delight in their abominations". A way that will only lead to our own ruin and heartache, a way that I have walked before.
  Jesus is telling us about a better way, he is inviting us to come in. Follow him, those who recognize their need is found in God are experiencing the "kingdom of God". The Kingdom is within their hearts and life is being transformed from the inside out. A blessedness is found that cannot be taken away a path in life is walked that is certainly going to lead home.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

"Then their eyes were opened" (Luke 24:31)

  Countless thousands of people were crucified in the ancient world. A mode of execution probably invented by the Persians around the sixth century B.C. was perfected by the Romans and lasted until abolished by Constantine in the fourth century A.D. Thousands of Jewish men were crucified by the Romans especially leading up to the revolt in 67 A.D. Yet one crucifixion emerges in history to stand alone from all others, one crucifixion has happened that has in many way changed how we even see a cross today. Is it not amazing that Paul could write in Galatians 6:14 "May I never boast except in the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ". How could Paul say that his boast was in a crucifixion? especially in that time period. How to Paul could one who was executed in this way emerge to become his Lord?
  From a Roman perspective the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth was just another day, it was just another illustration of what happens when the empire responds to a perceived threat to its peace and stability. In fact it isn't really discussed much at all in their ancient writings. Death on a cross was associated with such shame that it was not a topic for polite company. Even surprisingly the Gospel writings are reserved when speaking of the crucifixion, they simply say "they crucified him", without much of the horrific detail. To the Roman mind it was foolishness to ascribe anything to Jesus honorary. Probably the oldest depiction of Jesus being crucified was found on a plaster wall in the ancient city of Rome. It is called the "Alexamenos graffito" and you can see photographs of it on the internet. It is a inscription of a figure upon a cross with the head of a donkey and a young man is standing to the side with a hand raised in homage. Then there is a caption in Greek that says "Alexamenos worships his God". Justin Martyr a second century Christian apologist writes "they say our madness consists in the fact that we put a crucified man in second place after the unchangeable and eternal God, the creator of the world". All in all to the Romans, and everyone else for that matter, crucifixion was a humiliation, it labeled one as a outcast, and asserted the authority of the empire.
  In Luke chapter 24, I hope you take five minutes to read the chapter to get the context, we meet two despondent souls who had put their hope in Jesus of Nazareth but had witnessed his death. Cleopas and perhaps his wife (John 19:25) were returning home on the Sunday morning after being in Jerusalem and they happen upon a "stranger". As a conversation ensues among these travelers they tell how they had hoped this Jesus would have been the one to have "redeemed Israel". They were telling the story from the perspective of what crucifixion meant to them, not yet understanding the meaning of his death, it was simply hopes dashed.
  Something remarkable happened, something beautiful, as they travel along the way they reach their destination in the village of Emmaus and persuade this "stranger" to eat supper with them and stay with them since it was evening. As the meal begins we read "When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him". Their eyes were now opened to behold the resurrected Jesus, yes vindicated from death, beginning the reversal of the curse. That wonderful phrase "their eyes were opened" is found at another meal setting in the Scriptures though in a much less wonderful setting. The serpent tempts Eve to eat of the tree that God had forbidden them to eat of, then her and Adam both eat of it and "the eyes of both of them were opened" (Genesis 3:7). They were opened to behold guilt, shame, and alienation from God. But in Luke 24, Cleopas and his wife experience renewal, hope restored, joy and a communion with God who raises the dead. This Jesus had come into this world, a world that loves its darkness, and he endured the ferocity of it. Evil itself exhausted its power on Jesus, and he took on himself, my sins, your sins, the sins of the world and laid them in a grave so that he could emerge from that tomb victorious and usher in a new reality for every nation. Yes a new world is being born through the resurrection of Jesus, I hope you will be part of it, Being born again of "water and the Spirit" (John 3:5) and experience new life in Jesus.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Resurrection in John

  The resurrection of Jesus is simply the cornerstone of our faith, many countless thousands of people were crucified in the ancient world. Only one has been proclaimed raised from the dead, Lord of the earth, and coming again to judge all. And this message proclaimed at the peril of one's own life. The first Christians were eager to tell about Jesus and especially His resurrection. The apostle John, who was one of the earliest disciples of Jesus and eyewitness to the events, tells us about Him in his Gospel writing.
  John seems to emphasize that the resurrection of Jesus is the first act of God's new creation. Something has happened through Jesus that says the future has broken into the present. To the mind of many in the first century the Messiah was to come and usher in the "new age" indeed, the resurrection was a belief of many faithful in Israel, yet it was to be an "end time" event, not something that took place within the flow of time and certainly not to the "Messiah". Yet what has taken place, if you can imagine two circles side by side, one representing the "old age", one representing the "the new age" or "messianic age". In the mind of many these two ages were distinct from each other, separate ages, when Messiah comes he will usher in the the new and all the dead would be raised. What has happened the new testament writers declare to us is, is that these two circles have slightly overlapped, if you will. Yes the "last days" have come (Hebrews 1:1), but we still experience all the frailties of a "fallen creation", death, disease, famine etc. The new testament writers were not blind to that reality, but they still spoke in terms of in Jesus a "new creation" has begun to emerge and the entire creation itself is in eager expectation of its own deliverance from decay.
  John is very strong in his teaching about "new creation" emerging in Jesus Christ. In John chapter one he plainly takes us back to a creational mindset "In the beginning..." Now what has appeared is "life", and this "life" is "the light of all people". In the Genesis narrative of creation God created light first. Now light has shone into the darkness of humanity.
  Another of the many new creational concepts John relates to us is what Jesus said in John 7:37-39) Jesus there speaks of the Holy Spirit being given to believer's after his "glorification". This Spirit is life giving, like "rivers of living water". I can't help but think of the river's spoken of in Genesis 2. Paul says that the "Spirit" is to us a "seal", a "pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people" (Ephesians 1:14). "Life is given to our mortal bodies also through His Spirit that dwell in you" (Romans 8).
  Thirdly in our brief survey of John's writing is the "first day of the week" as being the resurrection day. In the chronology of the final week, Jesus dies on Friday the sixth day. The sixth day was the day that God created humanity in Genesis. It was on this day that in John's account Pilate says "behold the man" (John 19:5). It was on this same day that Jesus uttered the words "it is finished" (John 19:30). On the seventh day, the Sabbath, Jesus body rested in the tomb, while His spirit refreshed in the realm of 'Paradise". God as well rested from his own works on this day. What happens however on the next day, the first day of the new week however changes the entire course of human history. "Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark" Mary comes to the tomb and finds it empty, she was to discover the "light of life". Thereafter in the writing Jesus continues to appear to the disciples on the "first day" until his ascension. Then after that Luke tells us the Spirit comes on a first day and the church is born.
   The resurrection is cornerstone to John. In his writing of the Gospel, it is the eighth miracle recorded, again that would correspond to the "eighth day" or "first day of the new week". His first sign is in John 2, turning water to wine. The second is in chapter 4, healing the royal officials son. The third miracle is chapter 5, healing a lame man. The fourth sign is in chapter 6, feeding the five thousand. The fifth sign occurs also in chapter 6, walking on water. Sign number six is in chapter 9, giving sight to a man born blind. The seventh miracle is raising Lazarus in chapter eleven. The crowning of all these "signs" however is in chapter 20, Jesus himself reverses death and is raised from the dead. This is the "eighth sign", on the "eighth day" or first day of the new creation.
  Live and celebrate this new creation in your own life, follow and obey the One who has brought it to us and look for the day he appears again and we are changed to be like him.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Here is the man" (John 19:5)

  The apostle John records for us these words in John 19:5. "So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!" Those four words speak so much, "Here is the man", Jesus is led forth having been beaten and flogged, now wearing a crown of thorns and in mockery a purple robe placed on him by the Roman soldiers, bruised and bloodied he stood before them. The one who had healed the sick, fed the hungry, spoke of God's Kingdom now stands in full view incurring the wrath of darkness. I doubt Pilate really understood the full meaning of his own statement "here is the man", Pilate never realized those words would be written down in the most widely distributed book in history. Here indeed is "the man", look closely at him.
  When God created humanity we were made in God's image and likeness, all people today still bear that likeness. I believe that entails many different things and am still realizing many more. However at the heart of being made in God's image entails a manner of living, an ideal condition of life that reflects God's nature. We mar and hide that image when we live in evil and ways that are against God's created order. Yet Jesus is humanity in its perfection, Jesus shows to us what living and bearing the image of God means fully. Jesus fully partook of humanity, "Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things" (Hebrews 2:14). Jesus lived in perfect communion with the Father, we read of him some time being an entire night in prayer other times he simply began speaking with the Father among people as you or I would speak to a friend. The most common phrase Jesus used of himself was the "Son of Man", a phrase that did have "messianic" overtones to his hearers, but very basically it meant he was  the representative of humanity he is the embodiment of humanity as it was meant to be. Jesus experienced life as we do, he wept, rejoiced, moved with compassion, amazed at unbelief, felt anger, grieved, loved people, felt hunger, and needed rest. He was just like us. Pilate wasn't taking all this in when he said "here is the man".
  Jesus is the ideal for humanity, yet he is also "Immanuel"which means "God with us", He is the embodiment of God and shows us God. "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made Him known" (John 1:18). We see him raise the dead, heal the sick and drive out demons. He forgives sin, calls all to follow Him, and feeds the multitude, Here is God in humanity. Yet what is most striking is that when Pilate utters those words "here is the man" he is pointing to God in the flesh who has just incurred a flogging, been beaten by those he loves, He, earth's true King, wears a purple robe because of mockery. The crown he is wearing is one of piercing thorns, as the old hymn goes. "Did e'er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?" God wearing the veil of humanity steps into our place. This is what it looks like when God comes into the world, He dies for us.
  Yes, Pilate had this one right indeed, "Here is the man!"

Sunday, April 1, 2012

"Your King Comes To You"

In Matthew 21:1-11 we read of what we often refer to as the "triumphal entry",it took place on the Sunday prior to his crucifixion, therefore we have the traditional observance of "Palm Sunday". In the historical context Jesus was entering Jerusalem at the beginning of the Passover time, and the city would be overflowing with people from all over the empire. The time was sacred to the people for it was a reliving through liturgy of their freedom from oppression yet at the same time given their current condition it was a time that yearned for Yahweh to act again in similar way. They longed for the "messiah", one who would rise up and overthrow their enemies and establish the messianic kingdom. Even though the people were in their own land they were not sovereign in it, from the time of Nehemiah when they came home from Babylon they felt as "slaves in the land you gave our forefathers".
  Jesus is now entering the city and the description of the Gospel writers is one that you cannot miss the "messianic", "kingly" overtones. The entire scene described by all four writers is saturated with prophetic pronouncements of what the "Messiah" would look like, come to do, and what his "kingdom" would look like. The scene is is fulfillment of Zechariah's vision in Zechariah chapter 9. Zechariah says for Zion to shout and rejoice because her "King" is coming to her. This figure is described as "righteous" and "having salvation". He goes on to say that he is "gentle" and riding on a "colt", the "foal" of a donkey. At this same time as Jesus enters the city this way, the Roman Governor over Judea is entering Jerusalem from his headquarters in Caesarea riding in a chariot and escorted by Roman soldiers. The two kingdoms are going to clash, yet in a most unexpected way the kingdom of this "Galilean peasant" is going to emerge victorious not only over Rome but over all the kingdoms of the earth. Zechariah says further "He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth". Jesus is "Prince of Peace" as Isaiah calls him, what he came to do was create a kingdom not to overthrow Rome, but to include them, as well as all other nations of the world and to "guide our feet in the path of peace".
  He was entering the city to free prisoners, "As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit". He is come to set us free from the self destruction of sin, he would shed his blood in our place, he would defeat by his own death and resurrection the true enemy of humanity.
  As Jesus enters the city set on doing these things and the cross growing ever nearer, the people in jubilant praise singing "Hosanna in the highest, Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" they spread their own cloaks in the road and went ahead of him. Amid this fervor, Jesus sees the city in the distance and "wept over it" (Luke 19:41-44). "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace- but now it is hidden from your eyes", then he predicts the fate of the nation, which happened less than 40 years later, and because "you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you".
   Jesus still extends his peace, yet often we go through life not accepting what will really bring us that peace. I find myself that my expectation of the Messiah becomes as wide of the mark as theirs ever was sometimes. God has come to us, we see him in Jesus, this is what he looks like, gentle and riding on a colt, headed for a cross to show us his love.